Startups are hard

As seen on Jason Njoku’s blog


I was speaking with a very old friend of mine this weekend (I’ve known him since I was like 13 or something), and one of the founders of a Spark backed company, Lanre Akinlagun Founder of I asked him how things were. His response. Hard.

I smiled. Of course they’re hard. What did you think this was?

He actually responded that no one told him it be THIS HARD. I have said before and will always say, startups are bloody hard. Like really, really hard. There are very few short cuts if any to success. Whether you have a lot of capital or a little, building an actual company is bloody difficult. And it takes time. I would budget 5 years at least. The most intense period is the start, especially in the first two years as you fight for survival. At the beginning, most startups spend all their time fighting for their survival. Every minute, hour and day. Grinding. Hurting. More grinding. Boring, frustrating and more grinding. You can easily put in 100 hrs per week for 52 weeks in a year and end up with almost zero monetary output. Oh and you are overwhelmingly likely to fail.

Lanre has been grinding things out at Drinks and for all his efforts his 5 person team are generating (and have been for some time) 5-figure-USD monthly revenues across a wide array of channels. He has quietly built one of the most promising startups at Spark.

Lanre has worked in startups. But working for one and building one up is completely different. I’m a relative veteran at attempting to build startups. In fact, I am in my 10th year. I started whilst still at university in Manchester in 2003. I have seen the guts of 20+ startups in that time. 50% failed within the first 2 years, for all manner of reasons. But the chief reason is lack of revenue. So when building or investing in startups I like to see linear revenue models. And suitable funding where possible.

I was telling Lanre that I have been a founder for most of my startup career. But now I am learning slowly but surely how to be an actual CEO, they are fundamentally very different roles. It’s only in the last 6 months I have understood the distinction. But a distinction there is. I have a post on that in my drafts and will hopefully finish that this week.

Nonetheless, startups are the new sexy. They shouldn’t be. I hear so many people tell me about wanting to ‘try’ building a startup in their spare time or for 6 months. That is a loser’s attitude. I think more stories should be told about the realities of starting a company. It’s been known to drive people to suicide. Startups in Nigeria are harder, more intense and the success less certain. My universal thesis is that frustration is the fuel of entrepreneurship. It’s supposed to be hard hence the upside is considerably more non-linear. There is an immortal line in game of thrones:

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.

Startups are exactly the same. You win or your startups die. It’s simply binary. It’s simply brutal. No sexy here. Just years of stress, poverty and hardship. If you want to sign up, I applaud you. But it’s a full contact sport. And the grind is all you have. The trend to immortalise startups is a bad one. It will bring feeble minded wantrepreneurs into the mix. The trend also creates another, darker scenario. Lying. I have found that there is a fair amount of lying, smoke and mirrors in the sub-saharan African tech space. Spinning is different from lying. Lying is outright lying. And because I know people in all sorts of situations and scenarios, I  can usually parse out the facts from the fiction. An emerging ecosystem doesn’t need that. Especially in Nigeria where people think we are land of crooks.

Anyhow, I remember in the lonely grinding days working so intensely at times, I thought I could hear my own thoughts.


You should definitely read: The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

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